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Disabled Colorado Springs vet gets inventive boost from Colorado School of Mines

By: Tony Peck
January 21, 2018 Updated: January 21, 2018 at 12:03 pm
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Retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Velette Britt, who was paralyzed in 2015 will get a curb-climbing device for her wheelchair and improvements to her hand-cycle thanks to engineering students at the Colorado School of mines. (Courtesy Photo)

A paralyzed Colorado Springs veteran will receive student-designed custom wheelchair equipment this spring from the Colorado School of Mines.

Staff Sgt. Velette Britt was medically retired from the Air Force after a mountain biking accident in August 2015. The injury left her without the use of her legs.

The equipment is designed to give her freedom and a boost in Paralympic competition.

For the engineering students, it's a classroom project that has more than academic value.

"It would provide an actual impact, instead of being theoretical," said Brandon Weihl, who is leading a team designing a device that would allow Britt's wheelchair to climb over curbs. "It actually has some purpose."

It's a new step on a long road for Britt.

Velette and her husband Charlie Britt, also an Air Force veteran, joked about the first months of her recovery. "She is real stubborn," Charlie Britt said, explaining his wife's drive to carry on with her life.

The first month of recovery consisted of physical therapy, eventually introducing Velette Britt to the handcycle.

Her first major outing after her injury came just two months after the accident. "The first time I was on a handcycle was for a 10k in November of 2015," she said.

Over the next couple of years she tried to ride every day, eventually traveling by herself to Milwaukee to compete in a race ending in Chicago.

"It's been huge," Velette Britt said. "It has helped me with my independence."

But there are still daily issues that she struggles with. Those problems are what the seniors at Colorado School of Mines are working to solve.

The students are working on two separate projects for Britt sponsored by the Quality of Life Plus Program, an organization that helps improve quality of life for veterans.

Weihl's team is building a curb-climbing attachment designed to be hooked to the back of her daily- use wheelchair.

"We are trying to create a design that is as light as possible," he explained.

The device would allow Britt to independently navigate curbs and places such as downtown Colorado Springs.

The second team is building handcycle grips.

"Velette wants to do the Paralympics," said project lead Megan Koehler. "Her hands kind of cramp up when she goes long distances."

Retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Velette Britt, who was paralyzed in 2015 will get a curb-climbing device for her wheelchair and improvements to her hand-cycle thanks to engineering students at the Colorado School of mines. (Courtesy Photo) 

In addition to fitted hand-grips, the team is also considering creating specialized gloves with a rigid skeleton.

"Working with veterans is a humbling thing," said Koehler, who hopes to work with prosthetics when she graduates.

The teams will present their final projects at the Colorado School of Mines Trade Fair this spring.

For Britt, the School of Mines inventions are part of her mission to lead a life unencumbered by her injuries.

"So she is in a wheelchair," Charlie Britt said of his wife. "She's the same person. There really is no difference."

Velette Britt stays away from saying her recovery should serve as some kind of example.

"Whenever people say, you're an inspiration," she says rolling her eyes, "I say, you need to get out more."

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